New Hampshire’s Floyd Wilkie, like many of the country’s emerging freestyle skiers in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was a young man who embraced the counterculture of the times. Alpine racing was considered the pinnacle of skiing, but Wilkie and his ilk favored a more expressive form of the sport. They skied the steeps and the bumps, performing daredevil jumps. It wasn’t enough to be good; you had to put on a good show.
There were guys like me who were not into the racing deal,” Wilkie says. “We were a little outlandish, doing crazier stuff. Every single darn mountain in the country — Vail, or somewhere in Utah, or Mammoth — had their hotshot guys.”
In 1969, Waterville Valley Resort founder Tom Corcoran launched the nation’s first freestyle instruction program, the Waterville Valley Demonstration Team, merging it with the renowned Black & Blue Trails Smashers. Wilkie, still in his early 20s, was tapped to run the program.
The following year, Corcoran, a four-time national alpine champion and two-time Olympian, and Doug Pfeiffer, editor of Skiing magazine and an innovative ski instructor, hatched a plan to host the first freestyle contest — dubbed “Hot Dog Competition: National Championships of Exhibition
Skiing” — on Waterville’s Sunnyside trails.
“They decided to put this program on to bring all these hotshots in from all over the country,” says Wilkie, now 73. “It was really fun and exciting, because it opened up everybody else’s horizons. We saw guys that were doing what we were doing.”
Combining those two pivotal moments gave Waterville license to claim the moniker, “The Birthplace of Freestyle Skiing.” Yet despite an impressive record of competitions and training programs over the past half-century, Waterville Valley never hosted a World Cup freestyle event. That situation will be rectified in late January, when dozens of the best skiers from around the globe will descend on the resort for the moguls and dual moguls International Ski Federation World Cups.
“I competed in my first sanctioned mogul event at Waterville Valley when I was 8 years old,” says Hannah Kearney, a 2010 Olympic gold medalist and 2014 bronze medalist. “I was instantly hooked on the sport. I spent every weekend over the next eight years training with the exceptional WVBBTS Freestyle Team until I made the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Team in 2002.”
Tim Smith, Waterville Valley’s CEO and general manager, agreed, saying the World Cup is a culmination of decades of grooming the resort to host a world-class event. Waterville Valley last held a World Cup alpine race in 1991. In the past six years, Waterville Valley has proved itself worthy by putting on several national-level freestyle events and the national championships in 2023.
Meanwhile, the single and dual-mogul formats create one of the most spectator-friendly venues in sports. Waterville Valley’s World Cup will take place on the resort’s double-black diamond Lower Bobby trail (named after Corcoran’s longtime friend, Robert F. Kennedy), a precipitous rip that, naturally, is “almost exactly to FIS specifications” for a mogul run, Smith says.
The single mogul qualifiers and finals will take place on Friday, Jan. 26, followed by dual moguls on Saturday, Jan. 27, with women and men competing on both days.
“I’m thrilled to host these types of events. It’s not just for the athlete. It’s also for the guest,” Smith says. “We pride ourselves in the motto ‘next level.’ We’re here, as a family resort, to bring every athlete, everybody that comes here, to their next level. Everybody has to see that highest-end athlete to really appreciate them. You’ve got to see it live.”
Adding to the event’s cachet is the region’s hard-won adage, “If you can ski the East, you can ski anywhere,” which local competitors hope to leverage to their benefit.
“As an East Coast skier who grew up competing at Waterville Valley at 12 years old, I’m incredibly excited to have an East Coast World Cup return to the circuit,” says mogul skier Hannah Soar, a member of the Stifel U.S. Freestyle Ski Team. “I’m looking forward to having a World Cup close to home and hopefully a hometown advantage.”
But the young guns competing this January also owe a debt to the pioneers who put freestyle on the map, and sustained it over the past 50-plus years. Legendary freestyler Wayne Wong, a native of Vancouver, British Columbia, traveled across the continent to compete in Waterville Valley’s inaugural “Hot Dog” championships.
“I was out there to just prove how much fun I could have on my skis,” Wong says. “I didn’t know what the possibilities on skis could be. And if I won some money, that was great.”
Though the 21-year-old Wong finished third behind Hermann Gollner and Ken Tofferi, both of Vermont, he made a lasting impression. Wong’s performance, coupled with an electric smile and personality, won him an instant following and sponsorship support. The following summer, he was hired to teach at the resort.
When Wilkie returned from his two-year military hitch, he teamed up with Wong to run the Black & Blue Trails Smashers freestyle program. The sport evolved through a series of fits and starts. While the inaugural Hot Dog Championships featured single runs that combined all three disciplines — aerials, moguls and ballet — they were eventually separated. Aerials became the domain of gymnasts, and ballet faded away altogether.
But mogul skiing continued to flourish, captivating competitors and spectators. After Wong moved on from the program, another Waterville Valley legend, professional freestyler Nick Preston, took the reins (both Wong and Preston have Waterville trails named after them). Preston was head coach at Waterville Valley Academy, which is operated by the BBTS Educational Foundation, from 1980 to 2015. While acknowledging the talent of the sport’s innovative founding skiers, Preston emphasizes that today’s World Cup competitors are word-class athletes.
“Our sport, because it’s being fabulously coached these days, is very competitive,” says Preston, who now runs Freestyle America with his wife, Suzi, and son, Wesley. “All you have to do is watch a World Cup, and you realize that there’s incredible coaching going on all around the world.”
Like Smith, Preston believes the World Cup will celebrate not only freestyle skiing but also the region that embraced the discipline.
“The whole damn sport of freestyle skiing is roaring right now,” Preston says. “In the middle (decades), it was being tossed around a lot, finding an identity. And now all of a sudden, we’re back to where it all started.”
If you miss January’s FIS World Cup, don’t fret. The event will return to Waterville Valley in 2025.